Nielson's 6.5x47 Nationals Winner
Old Dog Don Nielson Shows Off New Tricks at 600 Yards
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A respected 100- and 200-yard Benchrest shooter, Don Nielson proved he has the "right stuff" for the 600-yard game. In a truly dominant performance at the 2007 NBRSA Nationals, Don captured the Overall Championship, and earned top honors in Two-Gun Score, Two-Gun Group, Heavy Gun 6-Target Aggregate (Score and Group). Don also posted the Heavy Gun single target High Score for the match (98-3X). That same target produced a 1.793" Heavy Gun Small Group--a new NBRSA 10-shot record. During the match, Don established three other new score records for the new, smaller 600-yard target. Though Don also campaigned a new 6-6.5x47, he shot his 17-lb, 6.5x47 throughout most of the match. This rifle's great inherent accuracy, combined with Don's wind-reading skills, proved a winning combination. By winning big in a new discipline (600 yards), Don showed that an Old Dog can definitely learn new tricks.
Don Nielson Dominates NBRSA 600-Yard Nationals
Don started off the NBRSA Nationals shooting his 6-6.5x47 in Light Gun and 6.5?47 in Heavy. (Both rifles were built as 17-lb Light Guns). But, after his 6.5x47 produced a 1.793" 10-shot group on Day 1, he shot that Hart-barreled rifle in both classes: "After shooting the 1.79" group, I knew I'd shoot the 6.5 for the rest of the match." On Sunday it was very windy and Don briefly contemplated going with a bigger caliber--he had brought along two larger-caliber rifles in his truck, a 280 Rem Improved and a 300 RUM Improved, just as "insurance" if winds got extreme. Don told us he thinks "the 6.5x47 is the ideal cartridge for 600 yards, but when it really blows you may want something bigger."
But Don never took out the big boomers, and it was probably a good thing, because the 6.5x47 shot well enough--even in Sunday's windy conditions--to secure his overall match victory. In his 6.5x47, Don shot a moderate load of RL15 with new JLK 130gr bullets from Swampworks. He uses Federal 205m primers and he says they "ignite flawlessly every time". In the 6-6.5x47, Don used H4350 with original, Jimmy Knox-crafted 105gr JLKs. CLICK for VIDEO.
One key to Don's success was his wind-reading ability. He tried to get sighters for all conditions: "I try to watch flags on the whole course--all the time. You shoot your sighters and see where it hits in different conditions." Most of the time, Don left his knobs alone and held off as conditions dictated: "I never clicked until Sunday when the wind was really up. Normally I will never click the scope after starting a group."
Both Don and NBRSA 600-yard Nationals third-place finisher Lou Murdica are veteran short-range benchrest shooters. We asked Don if his short-range experience gave him an edge in the 600-yard game. He replied: "Both Lou and I are used to holding off as conditions change. And we've learned to be sensitive to small pickups and let-offs. All those short-range wind skills do help at 600. It's not that different."
|Two Rifles Using 6.5x47 Lapua Brass
Don brought two new rifles to the NBRSA 600-yard Nationals, both built on Panda Actions with Kelbly long-range stocks, and both using the new Lapua 6.5x47 brass. (Don also had a 280 Remington Improved and a 300 RUM Improved in his truck as "big-caliber back-up" in case the wind really howled.) Don built two rifles because he honestly didn't know which chambering would shoot better. He also had a take-off Hart 6.5mm barrel that he wasn't using. That was fortuitous, as the 6.5mm Hart proved to be a match-dominating "hummer". Going into the match, Don thought the Bartlein-barreled 6-6.5x47 would be his main gun as it had displayed slightly better accuracy during tunnel testing. But the 6.5mm proved superior in actual match conditions. The old fluted Hart barrel won all the marbles.
Apart from the Kelbly long-range '1M' stocks (in pumpkin orange of course), Don's 600-yard guns are built much like short-range benchrest rifles. Both the 6-6.5x47 and 6.5x47 use aluminum Stolle Panda actions with Jewell triggers and optics carried in Kelbly rings on Davidson rails. He used a Leupold 36X on his 6.5x47 only because, with the heavy non-tapered barrel, the 6.5x47 couldn't make weight with the much heavier 12-42x56 Nightforce.
|Don Nielson 2007 NBRSA Nationals Gun Specifications
Panda action, Bartlein 1:8" barrel, HV Contour, chambered in 6-6.5x47 (Henriksen reamer), 0.265" chamber for 0.010" neckwall turned brass (.263" loaded round diam.), Kelbly '1M' stock, molded-in orange color, Nightforce 12-42x56 BR scope, Jewell trigger. Match Load: Original Jimmy Knox 105gr JLK bullets, 3000+ fps, 38.0+ grains of H4350, Fed 205m primers. Bullets seated into the lands to show square engraving marks.
Panda action, Hart 1:8" barrel, Straight Contour (fluted), chambered in 6.5x47 (Henriksen reamer), 0.286" chamber for 0.010" neckwall turned brass (.284" loaded round diam.), Kelbly '1M' stock, molded-in orange color, Leupold 36X BR scope, Jewell trigger. Match Load: Swampworks 130gr JLK bullets (VLD) running around 2880 fps, 37.0+ grains of RL15, Fed 205m primers. Bullets seated into the lands to show square engraving marks.
Load Development--KISS Principle Works for Don
Don managed to hit on a winning load for the 6.5x47 with very little work. His research (including data from AccurateShooter.com) indicated that Alliant Reloader 15 would probably be a good choice. For bullets, he wanted something with a higher BC than the 120gr class bullets, but he felt that the 140s were "too much bullet" for the 6.5x47 case. He started testing using RL15 and the Swampworks JLK 130 VLD bullet. He only had 300 bullets to work with. After establishing his max load, Don did accuracy work-ups in an indoor tunnel. Don quickly found that his best accuracy was with a "moderate" load running about 2880 fps. Following short-range benchrest practice, Don seated his bullets well into the lands, enough so that the rifling put square marks on the jacket. With this load, fired by Federal 205M primers, the 6.5x47 was shooting in the high ones in the tunnel. That's great accuracy by any standards. For a 600-yard gun shooting long VLD bullets, it is remarkable. FYI, if you want some of those Swampworks 130s, you better get in line. After the Nationals, Don immediately ordered another 3000. CLICK for 2-min VIDEO.
Load development likewise went very quickly for the 6-6.5x47. Don had some original 105gr JLKs made by Jimmy Knox himself. Don selected H4350 because this was a proven winner in the similar 6XC case. H4350 delivered impressive velocities with low ES/SD, but again Don found his best accuracy with a load well under "max." The results in the tunnel (groups in the low "ones") were so impressive that Don settled on H4350 and the 105gr JLKs without doing further testing. This was a classic case of everything coming together like magic.
Special thanks to Otto Klittich, OttoandSons-Nursery.com, who kindly made his private range available for our photo shoot with Don.
Brass Prep--Key to Extreme Accuracy
Don attributes the accuracy of his loads to careful brass prep: "If you don't have perfect brass, you might as well go home. And the most critical part of this is having a perfect neck." Don aggressively prepped the Lapua 6.5x47 cases. Necks were turned to .010" neckwall thickness using a Pumpkin tool and case lathe. After turning, Don notes, the necks are uniform within .0001". Don reamed the 6.5x47 flash holes to .0625" with a Ron Hoehn tool. (Editors Note: early lots of 6.5x47 brass had some problems with slivers of brass partly obstructing the flash-holes. You should inspect all 6.5x47 flash-holes before loading.) After turning the necks and uniforming the primer pockets, Don weight-sorted the brass within one-tenth of a grain.
Don Nielson shot the match with two different scopes. He had his favorite 12-42x56 Nightforce on the 6-6.5x47 because that rifle had a tapered barrel and could make weight even with the big Nightforce. On his 6.5x47, with its heavy straight-contour Hart barrel, he used one of the older Leupold 36-power (non-zoom) benchrest scopes. Obviously it did the job. However, during the course of the match, Don noted that his friend Lou Murdica, shooting in the same relay, was able to see bullet holes quite reliably until the mirage came up in the afternoon. Lou was using the new March 40X scope. Don noted that Lou was definitely able to resolve 6mm and 6.5mm bullet holes in conditions where the Leupold (or even the Nightforce) could not.
"Seeing is believing" according to Don, and at the end of the match, Don purchased Lou's March 40X. Lou, who finished third overall, said his March scope definitely offered an advantage: "Most of the time I had no trouble seeing 6mm bullet holes at 600 yards in both the white and blue areas of the target. Most of the other guys had trouble seeing their bullet holes with other scopes. This made it easier for me to make a call to hold off on a shot." Lou and Don also both believe that the new March scope offers unrivaled reliability. Don tells us "I'm confident in the scope--that it will hold zero and maintain consistent click values."
The Optics Equipment Race
How important is it to be able to see your bullet holes in 600-yard competition? This is a question facing top competitors. Don Nielson proved that being able to resolve 6mm and 6.5mm bullet holes at 600 yards is not necessary to win. On the other hand, given the choice to "see or not to see", a scope that can resolve bullet holes is certainly worth having. Lou Murdica said that his March could resolve 6mm bullet holes (he shot a 6BR) in both the white and the blue except "in the later afternoon relays when the mirage got bad."
This editor has been able to resolve 6mm bullet holes with a 12-42x56 Nightforce at 600 in the white, but that was an iffy proposition requiring very good conditions with low humidity and minimal mirage. If scopes such as the March and the 12.5-50 Schmidt & Bender (slated for 2008 release) will reliably resolve 6mm bullet holes at 600 yards, this really does change the game. Being able to see your last bullet's impact certainly enhances one's ability to call the wind, and judge your hold-off for the next shot. It can also affect strategy. If, for example, you see your first couple of shots out in the 8 ring, do you "stay put" and shoot for group, or do you dial windage or change your hold-off to center the remaining shots? It will be interesting to see if the top 600-yard shooters "up the ante" and replace $900 Leupolds and $1400 Nightforces with ultra-premium scopes costing $2000-$3000. That would mean an optical "arms race" in the 600-yard discipline. On the other hand, the quest for more optical power can lead to smart innovations such as Gene Davis' new screw-in Optical Boosters. Davis sells a threaded $90 Zeiss lens that fits in front of the eyepiece on Leupold, Sightron, or Weaver BR scopes. This boosts the magnification about one-third. Thus a 40X Leupold Comp scope, with Davis 3X Booster, would deliver 53X power for a very minimal investment.
Nearly every day our editors get emails asking "Which is better--the 6.5x47 or the 6-6.5x47? Which should I build?"
There's no simple answer. Both calibers exhibit great accuracy combined with excellent velocity. The 6-6.5x47 will push 105-107gr 6mm bullets up to 3150 fps. With the original 6.5x47, you can get the 120s to 3000 fps in a 28" barrel, and you can run the 130s at 2950 (though Don found best accuracy at a considerably lower velocity). This brass is rated to 63,000+ psi, and it will hold up with stout loads, just like 6BR brass.
You could do as Don Nielson did, and build both. Don tested both calibers extensively in a tunnel. Both chamberings shot in the ones at 100 yards (in the tunnel), but the 6-6.5x47 showed a slight accuracy edge. At the Nationals, the 6-6.5x47 turned in 5-shot groups around 2.5". Then his 6.5x47 drilled a 1.793" TEN-shot group. After that, Don told us, "I knew what I'd be shooting for the rest of the match."
Is one caliber more inherently accurate? What about barrel life? From what we've seen so far, both calibers can easily go under quarter-MOA with a tuned load and good bullets. We do predict that barrel life should be greater with the 6.5x47 given the larger bore. When asked "what is the perfect caliber for 600-yard Benchrest?", Don replied "The 6.5x47 Lapua." But he quickly added, "the 6-6.5x47 shoots just as good. It will probably come down to barrel quality. The 6mm also has a bit less recoil, and that may be important to some shooters."
|Don Nielson's 'Pumpkin' Neck-Turning System
Don Nielson runs a tool-making business, Benchrest Toys, Inc.. His signature product is the "Pumpkin" Micro-Set neck-turning tool. This distinctive, bright orange unit features a precision-ground eccentric mandrel adjustable in .0001" steps in and out. The components are top-grade throughout. The toolbit is M-2 tool steel while the mandrel is 52100 bearing steel heat-treated to 62 Rockwell "C". As a companion to the $150.00 Pumpkin, Nielson's "Neck-Checker" has a fitting on the side to hold a dial indicator so you can take direct readings off the turned brass. Don also makes a matching case holder that uses a Forster collet (with T-handle) to grip the case rim. The neck turner is available with carbide mandrels for 22, 6, 6.5, and 30 calibers.
The key feature of the Nielson Pumpkin is the eccentric mandrel. This makes the process of adjusting the cutting depth both simple and extremely precise. The knurled back of the unit has index marks. As you rotate the back part of the Pumpkin, this actually moves the mandrel inwards and outwards relative to the cutting tip. With most neck-turning tools, it's a hassle to adjust cutting depth. With some tools, when making fine adjustments of the cutting tip, you have to lock and unlock the cutter in trial and error fashion. That's frustrating.
With the Pumpkin, you simply turn the Pumpkin's mandrel adjustment according to index marks. Just dial in your cutting depth--the cutter itself never has to be re-positioned. Nielson has devised a simple and pretty much fool-proof system.
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Topics: Don Neilson, Kelbly Panda, Stolle, Hart Barrel, Bartlein Barrel, 600-yard Record, .243, .264, 6.5mm, 6mm, 6-6.5x47 Lapua, 6.5x47 Lapua, Berger, Jimmy Knox, JLK, Lapua Brass, Pumpkin, Neck-turning tool, Nielson Tools, NBRSA, 600 yard, Benchrest, Sacramento, Sacramento Shooting Center, Sloughhouse, Lou Murdica, Kelbly 1000 1K stock, Kelbly 1M, fiberglass, 6.5-284, 284 Winchester, Lapua, Scenar, F-Class, F-TR, Open Class, H4350, Alliant, Reloader 15, .264, Krieger, BAT Machine, Recoil lug, 6.5 mm, 6.5-08, Rem 260, 6.5-284, Switch-barrel, Edgewood Bag, 600 yards, 1000 yards, bullet seating.